For years now every time I’ve read anything or talked to anyone about what to do during a layover at Los Angeles International Airport the answer has been simple and singular: Plane spotting from the In-n-Out. I’ve done that a few times now and been quite happy with it. But I also discovered this weekend that there is another option for folks on a layover, one that is more educational, less fattening and every bit as cool to an aerophile like me: Flight Path LAX.
Flight Path is a museum and learning center is a non-profit organization formed 15 years ago as part of an effort by the operators of the airport to honor the 75th anniversary of its founding. In the intervening years the facility has blossomed into a phenomenal collection of models, photographs and memorabilia, all of which celebrates the history of flight in Southern California. The museum is situated in the Imperial Terminal, on the grounds of LAX. The terminal has served a number of purposes over the years, from operating as the MGM Grand terminal for shuttles to the casino in Las Vegas to the charter operations facility for private flights at the airport. And they’ve got the photos on the walls to prove it.
The museum has one of the largest collections of aviation uniforms out there. They have almost all of the mumus that the United Airlines flight attendants wore on the Hawaii runs in the 60s and 70s. They have several of the paper dress uniforms that the TWA attendants wore on their premium runs to London, Paris, Rome and New York City. Our guide was Eleanor, a former Flight Attendant for United and a woman incredibly knowledgeable about the industry and its history had a number of stories to share with us about those paper uniforms, including how they were hemmed to fit each attendant (scissors) and how the businessmen “flirting” with them would accidentally brush their cigarettes up against the attendants, risking the uniforms going up in smoke (and coming off). They’ve got hot pants from Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) and several generations of Pan Am uniforms, among others.
|The paper dress uniforms from TWA, 1968. On the left is the Rome outfit; Paris on the right.||Pacific Southwest Airlines’ uniform from the 70s.|
The museum also has a pretty impressive collection of in-flight service sets, ticket stubs, napkins, models and just about anything else that has an airline logo on it from the past 100+ years of flight. The breadth of the collection is rather astounding.
As part of our tour we were also treated to a bus ride around the airfield. I’m pretty sure this isn’t part of the regular visits, but if you can arrange it I highly recommend doing so. We all loaded up onto a bus and cruised around the airport, mixed in among the baggage trailers, maintenance trucks and crew vans. It was wonderful to be up close with the planes and see the operations from that perspective; it is much different than from inside the terminal.
Finally, the museum has a DC-3 parked out on the tarmac outside. The aircraft was built in 1941 and served in commercial service and as a private airplane before it was retired and eventually moved to the airport. We were quite lucky during our tour and were actually permitted to go inside. It sounds like this is somewhat common – more so than the bus tour – but it was still a special treat. The interior is still in its private plane configuration and it looks quite lavish for the era it was flying in.
No, they don’t have a Double Double available. And you cannot hop on the Parking Spot shuttle to get there (though the Embassy Suites El Segundo is right across the street, maybe a 5-10 minute walk). But the museum is open five days per week, Tuesday – Saturday, from 10 am to 3 pm and admission is free. It is absolutely worth visiting for a peek back at the history of aviation in Southern California and around the globe. You can even watch the video that includes the airport’s theme song. It is a classic (made it to #54 on the pop charts in the USA)!
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